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Notes: Amari Cooper held in check three weeks after record game in Houston

HOUSTON — The Browns couldn’t re-create their Christmas Eve success Saturday.

Neither could receiver Amari Cooper.

He caught four passes for 59 yards with a long of 19 Saturday in the 45-14 wild card loss to the Texans. Three weeks earlier he had 11 catches for a franchise-record 265 yards and two touchdowns in an easy 36-22 victory here.

Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. seemed to follow Cooper more this game, but Cooper said the adjustments were minimal.

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“They really had a similar structure, in my opinion,” he said. “Guys were playing really soft out there. They played better than us. What can I say?”

Cooper finished the previous matchup despite an injured heel and hadn’t played or practiced again until Thursday. He got up slow after one catch in the first half Saturday and stayed on the sideline, but coach Kevin Stefanski used a timeout and he didn’t miss a snap.

“He was battling,” Stefanski said of Cooper’s ailment. “They did a nice job in their coverage.”

The Texans appeared motivated by the earlier loss, which happened without quarterback C.J. Stroud and other starters.

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“Any team would feel the same way,” Cooper said. “You lose in your home stadium and you play the team that beat you a couple weeks ago a couple weeks after that. Of course, you don’t want to get that same feeling, especially when it’s a playoff game.”

Cooper, 29, had 72 catches during the regular season for a career-high 1,250 yards and five touchdowns. He has one playoff win in four trips with three teams.

“It’s never a good feeling, never want your season to end on a loss,” he said. “Obviously every team that makes the playoffs feels like they’re going to go to the Super Bowl and win it. Unfortunately we weren’t able to accomplish that.”

SHORT AND SWEET

Quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t arrive until Nov. 20 but was welcomed in the locker room and led a late charge, winning four straight and throwing for 300 yards in each.

“I was so fortunate to become a part of this team,” he said. “It’s a special group, and I know a lot of people can say that, but it really is. So to be given a chance to do this with those guys, I’m super grateful for it.”

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He said he didn’t have a message to the team after the loss.

“It’s an emotional group in certain ways and you just go around,” Flacco said. “We’re all just looking at each other right in the eyes and telling each other how much we appreciate each other and how much we love each other. No direct message.”

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Stefanski wanted to make a point publicly.

“The main thing I want to say to you guys is as disappointed as I am, and trust me I am, I really do appreciate this football team,” he said. “I appreciate all the hard work that they put in this entire season. I appreciate how they battled throughout and they stuck together.

“No one likes the result today. No one. That’s a somber locker room. You work so hard, and for it to end this way, it’s really, really tough. Having said that, we’re going to own it. We’re going to accept the blame and we’re going to give credit to them.”

MILESTONE MOMENTS

Kareem Hunt scored both touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. He’s the fourth player in NFL history with a rushing touchdown in each of his first four playoff games. His five playoff touchdowns are second in team history behind Earnest Byner’s six.

** Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah led the team with nine tackles, including four for loss.

** Receiver David Bell’s eight catches, for 54 yards, rank second in franchise history to Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli’s 11 in 1950.

** David Njoku’s 92 receiving yards are second for a tight end in team playoff history behind Ozzie Newsome’s 114 in 1987.

LINEUP CARD

Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward was active and started after being listed as questionable with a knee injury sustained Thursday in practice. Ward was voted to the third Pro Bowl of his six-year career despite missing three games with a shoulder injury. He had two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a forced fumble during the regular season.

** Safety Juan Thornhill (calf) was active and started after being listed as questionable. He missed six games throughout the season with calf injuries.

** No. 3 running back/kickoff returner Pierre Strong Jr. (back) was inactive after being listed as questionable. He took a hit to the back last week in the regular-season finale and left the game.

James Proche II returned kicks.

** Kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring) and rookie receiver Cedric Tillman (concussion) were ruled out Thursday.

Riley Patterson was elevated from the practice squad and went 2-for-2 on extra points. Bell took Tillman’s spot as the No. 3 wideout.

Cornerback Kahlef Hailassie, center Luke Wypler and defensive end Isaiah McGuire were healthy scratches.

** The Texans had most of their key players who’d been slowed by injury.

Defensive ends Will Anderson Jr. (ankle) and Jonathan Greenard (ankle), defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins (shoulder) and Maliek Collins (hip), receivers Robert Woods (hip) and Noah Brown (back) and fullback Andrew Beck (calf) were active.

WHO’S NO. 2?

In a surprising move, Jeff Driskel was inactive, serving as the No. 3 emergency quarterback. Coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Wednesday that Driskel would be the No. 2.

Instead, it was P.J. Walker.

Walker won two games earlier this season, starting and beating the 49ers and coming off the bench to beat the Colts. But he threw five interceptions. Driskel arrived Dec. 29 and started the finale, going 13-for-26 for 166 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 63.9 passer rating.

Walker didn’t play.

OLD STOMPING GROUNDS

Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was drafted by the Texans and spent four seasons playing for them, attended the game.

He was lost for the season with a broken bone in his throwing shoulder that required surgery and has been rehabbing in Los Angeles. He was injured Nov. 12 vs. the Ravens but finished the game and led a second-half comeback.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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